Immigrant Building Worker Secures $44,000 in Back Wages Under Special State Minimum Wage Law

Real Estate Industry Shortchanges Many Other Workers and Janitors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 7, 2018

Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org

A building porter who often worked seven days a week in exchange for a free room in the basement of a building but was never paid a salary was awarded almost $50,000 in unpaid wages after he filed a back wages claim with the New York Department of Labor.

Jose Rodriquez, 68, was a full-time porter who diligently worked to clean a Bronx apartment building with over 70 apartments. By night when off-duty, he collected empty bottles and cans in order to have sufficient money to buy food. Rodriguez often worked seven days a week for six years in exchange for a free room in the basement of the building. For seven days a week, he swept and mopped the floors, sorted and bagged the volumes of trash, and handled other general maintenance duties. But he was never paid any salary or wages as mandated by New York State Labor Law.

LatinoJustice subsequently filed a backwages claim with the New York State Department of Labor seeking $98,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime. During a DOL conciliation process, the employer agreed to compensate Rodriguez $43,300 in back wages. Rodriguez received the last payment this month.

After 20 years in the U.S., he now plans to retire to Mexico to reunite with his wife and now-adult children. “I felt I was robbed and had worked so many years,” said Rodriguez. “Nobody listened. Other lawyers did not offer to help me. Now, I have my justice. At 68 years old, working 20 years in the U.S., I’m ready to live in peace and return to my family in Mexico.”

LatinoJustice Senior Counsel Jackson Chin had been working on the case for over two years.

“This case was a particularly egregious example of workplace exploitation in an invisible part of our metropolitan low-wage economy,” Chin said. “Most workers don’t know that employers who give free or discounted living accommodations are not exempt from labor law obligations to pay minimum wage and overtime payments. Even when someone is hired “at-will” without a written contract, workers are afforded minimum wage and labor law protections.”

New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law requires residential buildings which have 11 or more units are required to provide janitorial services. The minimum wage rate of pay is set by the New York State Labor Department’s Wage Orders. In as much as this little-known wage regulation protecting housing service employees is generally unknown to the public, labor exploitation and wage abuse are likely more prevalent, especially given this particularly may affect immigrant workers working as non-unionized building porters in New York City.

“The building employer could not claim “credit” for providing free rent room to Rodriguez from any owed back wages, since such a defense is not applicable here given the basement apartment was not a legal unit”, stated Marvin Espana, Brooklyn Law School Class of 2018 and former LatinoJustice legal intern who also worked on the case with Chin.

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